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Writing as a Reader

September 21, 2013

I come to genre writing as a reader; much the same as a musician who comes to composing as a listener. Craft is a necessity to grant the tools used to write what sounds good; what moves the story; what evokes the listener’s emotion; what fits the ear’s expectation. Craft does not drive, it enables, and this fits into my assertion that authors and writers fulfill similar roles, but use very different methods to bring about results. More on that in an upcoming post, but I’ve chewed on that identity schism, and I think it rings true enough, at least for me.

Coming to writing as a reader gives me an innate sense of storytelling on the page. I know what sounds good, even though I may not know why. My plots may not be super thick, but they make sense, and I can give my characters emotion and paint the scenery with words; skills I learned from reading. My B.A. gives me a deeper understanding of the tools and processes of writing, but one of the negative outcomes of my education was a murkier story that tried to stay within the lines and fit the confusingly detailed academic mold.

It came as a stunning revelation that my teachers didn’t follow the rules they taught in class, and I began to feel as though the Kung Fu Masters where holding out on purpose to protect themselves from their own students. One example that will always stick with me is the professor warning against using clichés when they used them in their own writings. Hmm. The most honest admission I ever heard in a college writing class came from my first poetry professor, Dr. Erin Elizabeth Smith. She said, “I can’t teach you to write. I can only teach you to write like me, and that’s not what you want.” I’ve always appreciated her approach that opened up my own world of poetry devoid of copycat verses and imposed themes.

I tried to follow the literary advice in my genre work, but all it did was kill my fantasy writing. I was published in poetry and literary, short fiction, so my skills and talent weren’t suspect, but my genre stories were suffering at the hands of the approved academic approach. It was a wonderful day when I finally realized that genre fiction was a world unto itself and mostly undiscovered and unexplored territory for the creative writing instructor.

I know how to write fantasy and speculative fiction because I’ve spent my entire life immersed in that world. The story is king, and the characters are more important than a style rule or an occasional cliché. Correct grammar is possible just by familiarity. If you read talented authors, you’ll learn correct grammar. Voice and style will take care of themselves, and let’s face it, there’s not a professor or workshop facilitator in the world capable of teaching the writer how to find their voice.

Am I against education? Not at all. I wouldn’t trade my degrees for anything, but they only gave definition to what I was already able to create. Academia provided me with a glossary of terms; a reference for conversations with other owners of the Sacred Dictionary. There’s always room to learn and grow as a writer or author, but you don’t need a degree to produce genre fiction, just a voracious reading appetite, a good work ethic, and the desire to create something of your own. In writing my fantasy series, it is important that I remember that I’m not trying to write the next Great American Novel. That’s a wholly different endeavor in which I have zero interest.

The writer cranks the story in hopes of reaching perfection, while the author cranks out stories; lots of them. I want to live in the latter world; prolific and productive with a long list of works to my credit that fans read and enjoy. I may not have the tightest plots, buy I have a big basket full of them, and I intend to write them all. With my late start, that is going to require authoring, not writing. I’ll write more about this distinction in another post.

These are things that I’d forgotten along the way, and I’ve spent too much effort trying to write Stone of Power in the literary sense. It’s time to get back on the author track and crank out a good story. Damn the commas, and full speed ahead!

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